CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Updated school safety plans are in the works before students and teachers head back to the classroom next month.
The topic dominated much of Wednesday’s state Board of Education meeting in Charleston.
State Homeland Security Deputy Cabinet Secretary Rob Cunningham is currently developing a plan to better address school safety in West Virginia following the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas in May that claimed the lives of 19 children and two adults. Board members previously expressed interest in updating current safety measures.
County school systems in West Virginia are required by state code to have up-to-date, school-crisis response plans. They are required to hold active shooter training for staff and students.
Part of West Virginia’s new plan is to establish a mobile app that specifically allows students, staff and members of the community to report suspicious activity before tragedy occurs.
“Through that, we’ll be able to increase communication,” said Jonah Adkins, coordinator with the state Department of Education, told the board.
State Police troopers also addressed the board and said in addition to conducting active shooter trainings, they plan on providing school administrators with new training videos that show real-life situations.
“I think, until until you feel the stress, you might not understand,” said Cpt. Stuart Harper, special operations with State Police. “We want you to have an understanding of what’s going to happen when this actually does happen.”
Harper said they need to develop more of a universal response with law enforcement and school staff from county to county.
“Throughout the schools, we need to set up some form of chain to provide the law enforcement officers that are responding and designating people within that school to be communicators,” he said.
State Police said it goes back to the “see something, say something” message. Harper said he believes people have shied away from that in recent years.
“We live in a world now that people are scared to hurt somebody’s feelings or they’re scared to get in trouble if they say something,” he said.
Board member Debra Sullivan asked Harper if all reported situations would be reviewed in the app, not just crimes that have already occurred.
“They’re possible (crimes) and you would be as interested in those kinds of things as active cases?” she asked.
Harper responded, “Yes. The most important part of our job is prevention.”
State Police Cpl. J.D. Harris also spoke at Wednesday’s meeting and said they provide the training materials so that students and staff know how to protect themselves and others before police arrive.
“Informing the public on what to know, what to expect, things and steps that they can take to help save lives until we can get on scene,” Harris said.
The department’s Office of Student Support & Well Being will be providing a threat assessment training for school administrators, counselors, social workers and psychologists in September.
“This is to train them on how to conduct a student threat assessment in the event that a student is demonstrating erratic behavior and that a threat assessment is needed,” Adkins said.
It’s going to take an all-around approach to ensure safety in the classroom this fall, Adkins said.
“It’s not just on the shoulder’s of superintendents, principals, teachers. It’s everyone’s responsibility,” he said.
Addressing mental health and suicide prevention needs to be part of the state’s plan, said West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee.
“I never want to see a school shooting again, but we also have to take care of kids and prevent them from committing suicide or even attempting suicide,” Lee said at Wednesday’s meeting.
State Board of Education President Miller Hall closed out the discussion by expressing optimism about the state’s direction as students and staff prepare to head back to class next month.
“It’s tough going back to school especially with mass shootings, but we have a process and a plan,” Hall said.
The board was also updated Wednesday on the state Department of Education’s ongoing relationship with the West Virginia Fusion Center when it comes to school safety.